Inside her colorful home office in the Baker neighborhood, Lauren Chlebowski sits behind her drafting table amid bolts of rich, deep-toned fabrics—all creations-to-be for her high-end women's clothing line Ollie Sang. As she flips through a stack of sketches from her upcoming spring/summer collection, her subtle smile reveals a person who is, perhaps, still a little surprised by her success.
Chlebowski, 32, debuted the label almost five years ago and has since turned her tailored-yet-whimsical garments into a nationwide brand. More than 200 boutiques now carry Ollie Sang next to prestigious designers such as Trina Turk and Nanette Lepore, a feat Chlebowski achieved by crafting a style that steers clear of fashion's epicenters in New York and Los Angeles. "I go to the markets and shows in Los Angeles and all the other designers are trying to be so unique, but they all end up looking the same," she says. "They're all wearing the same leggings and sunglasses. And then there's me, in my jeans and cowboy boots, and I look different, and my style is different." Chlebowski's personal Western-meets-feminine eclecticism translates seamlessly into her line. It's almost as if her signature swing jacket with the Jackie-O collar is meant to be worn with jeans.
Even as a student at CU-Boulder, Chlebowski was a bit of a tomboy; she worked in a mountaineering shop and spent her spare time rock climbing instead of studying design or fashion. It wasn't until her mother, an amateur seamstress, sent her a sewing machine at school that she began mending rips and tears for friends, slowly graduating to making clothes and handbags. A few years later a friend asked Chlebowski to direct product development for his new baby-clothing company. Smitten with the work, she started Ollie Sang a year later in August 2003. (Ollie is the name of the friend's daughter; Sang is a tribute to the designer's love of singing and playing the guitar.)
Chlebowski is refining Ollie Sang's signature style and moving toward T-shirts, accessories, and jackets, which are the most popular items in her collection. Still, she's going to do it her way—from a tucked-away Denver neighborhood removed from the glitz and glam of the coasts.